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Sword Spotlight: The Kaiken

October 11, 2018

Sword Spotlight: The Kaiken

Not all traditional Japanese swords feature a long blade. Some were designed specifically with a short blade so that they could be used for self-defence in close-quarter combat. The kaiken is one such small-bladed Japanese sword, which we're going to discuss in this blog post.

What Is the Kaiken?

The kaiken is a traditional Japanese sword with a small blade. Like other tanto-style swords, it was designed in a variety of blade lengths. However, most traditional kaiken featured an 8- to 10-inch blade, making them just a fraction the size of a traditional katana or wakizashi.

Japanese bladesmiths also produced the kaiken in a variety of styles. The most common style featured a straight, single-edged blade (as shown in the photo). This simple design allowed for a superior level of strength and versatility. But you'll also find traditional kaiken with double-edged blades. Using two edges on a kaiken's blade allowed for a more lethal weapon, though it also increased the time and effort required to maintain it. With two edges instead of one, double-edged kaiken required twice the work to sharpen and maintain.

Kaiken and Samurai

Japanese samurai most commonly used the kaiken as a secondary weapon. In feudal Japan, laws actually required samurai to carry two weapons: a long sword and a smaller sword or dagger. The preferred long sword of the samurai was the katana, whereas many samurai carried the kaiken as their secondary weapon.

According to Wikipedia, it wasn't just men samurai who carried and use the kaiken; women samurai used them the kaiken as well. In fact, women samurai were actually expected to carry the kaiken. They typically carried this small sword in a pocket or sleeve of their traditional attire.

Tanto vs Kaiken: What's the Difference?

Some people assume that the kaiken is the same as the tanto. Although they are both small-bladed swords originating in feudal Japan, there are a few key differences between them. The tanto, for example, was often forged with a slightly longer blade measuring up to 12 inches. Furthermore, the tanto has been used extensively in traditional Japanese martial arts, whereas the kaiken was used strictly for combat and self-defence purposes.

The kaiken remains a culturally significant weapon in Japan. Its small but meticulous design has helped Japan become known as the world's leading producer of high-quality swords and bladed weapons.


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